If you are walking around Exeter City Centre today, you may spot a slim 16-year-old girl, 5ft 9 with legs up to her armpits. She is very gorgeous. She is also wearing a very short pair of turquoise shorts with hearts on them, with tights, pumps and legwarmers. I would like to say that as her mum my shock at her outfit related to the rather leaden October skies and the possibility of hypothermia, but if I were honest my first concern was that the young men of Devon would be hard pushed to keep their hands off her.
Now, I am a great believer that a woman should wear what she feels comfortable in without fear of molestation. Imposing yourself on a woman cannot be excused because she is wearing something a man might find irresistible, or which shows a little more than usual. There are, in my opinion, just two exceptions to the ‘wear what you want to’ rule:
1) At 16 I can only express an opinion, but when Evie was younger I steered her well away from clothes that were smaller versions of adult wear. Children are children and should be dressed like children. Not like little adults. Full stop.
2) No-one likes flabby bits hanging out of clothes. Just because the shorts are there it doesn’t mean everyone should wear them. Bits of bum or belly oozing out can never be a good look, whatever your age.
But back to my original concern. As girls grow up and become (far more beautiful) younger versions of ourselves how do we balance the ‘wear what you feel comfortable in’ argument with the natural parental concern that they are in some way putting themselves at risk by being provocative? I asked Evie why she wanted to wear the shorts. She said it was because she likes them and is bored with wearing jeans. Fair enough. But then the old ‘everyone at college is wearing shorts’ argument came out. I countered that with ‘always be true to yourself and don’t follow the herd’, but the cliché ridden discussion soon started going round in circles, albeit very amicably.
I have on occasions had quite lengthy conversations with Evie about issues I feel are important and aspects of society that I feel should be challenged: the exploitation of women; page three girls; WAGS; equalities; being respected for your brain not your breasts; women’s rights in the workplace and the home etc etc. I am sure she would say the list is endless. And that is possibly the problem. She doesn’t want to think about the world in these terms – if these are problems they are for others to deal with and it is none of her business. She is confident, she knows what she is good at and knows what she wants out of life. So far so good.
It is disappointing that I can’t instil some feminist values in my daughter or a feeling of ‘sisterhood'; but looking back I wasn’t a feminist at 16 either, even when faced with a careers mistress who gave me two options – nursing or secretarial work. And now it seems, when it comes to the young woman closest to me, my own values are called into question.
Should we impose our views as older women in the world on our teenage daughters, if they don’t come to them of their own accord? If they feel it is not their battle to fight, should we insist they take on responsibility for the lives of women they have no contact with? Am I failing Evie if I don’t? As parents should we still have the right to determine what they wear even at 16? What was my real reason for wanting her to put her jeans on and become one of the crowd?
Digging deeper, am I just really envious of the opportunities she has, the life she can lead – and her legs?
Photo credit Paalia